Early on in my career, earning 6-figures was the goal. And then I reached it and I didn’t know what to do next except chase more. That tireless chase only reinforced my workaholism. Money doesn’t mean happiness—they aren’t directly correlated. While people earning 6-figures may not have the same kind of financial problems as others, the biggest problem they have is whether they really love what they do for a living.
When you reach 6-figures, if you’re not careful, your lifestyle will adapt to having more money coming in and your cost of living will rise. That can trap you into a job, career, or industry you really don’t like because now you need at least a certain income to pay the mortgage, car note, and other bills.
When you make $100,000+ you may even get caught in the ironic overpaid trap. The overpaid trap happens when your employer pays you more than you think you’re really worth. Even if that relationship is abusive, you don’t feel empowered to leave because you don’t feel anyone else will value you as much as they do, hence you are stuck. The justification to leave would be greater if you felt underpaid.
This is especially true for lawyers, consultants, and financial professionals. To avoid this trap, here are 6 things you need to figure out when you hit 6-figures.
Despite the title of this article, these questions aren’t just for people who make 6-figures. They are pertinent for anyone at any stage of their career.
1. Is this really my passion or problem?
I strongly believe in finding your passion, but a passion can also be a cause or problem. And when I say cause or problem, I don’t just mean in the non-profit world (e.g. poverty, educational equity, hunger). Bad customer service is a problem. Quality control is a problem. Retaining talent is a problem. Reaching customers is a problem. Financing is a problem.
The pendulum has swung too far to the left with the rhetoric of follow your passion. Not everyone feels creative, but everyone can create value. Ask yourself, “If I was to leave this company today, what problem do I feel equipped to solve for other individuals or organizations?” Every job in the world was created to solve some problem, and your future income will be in direct proportion to the size of the problems you solve today. Oftentimes we have difficulty articulating what our problem is. Therein lies your true value.
Some people simply don’t believe that they can make enough money doing what they love despite evidence of it all around. That’s okay. To each is own. It’s a function of their own their own limiting beliefs, not the economy.
2. Is this what I see myself doing for the rest of my career?
Perhaps you have an itch to try something else now. This may be the industry or profession where you started your career and have grown in, but it doesn’t have to be your destination. Your career is at least a 40 year journey, unless you plan to retire early, and will take up a majority of your waking hours.
Many of your skills are likely transferable to completely different industries and professions, but you have to be open. Herb Kelleher, Founder of Southwest Airlines, began his career as a lawyer. He felt it was an “injustice” that average American couldn’t fly, so he set out to create the low-cost airline. Just because he changed industry didn’t mean that he had to completely reinvent himself. His mission to address “injustice” was the same—he was just attacking it from a different angle.
3. Am I married to this company? Am I happy here?
The 40-40 club is closed. The idea of working for one company for 40 years, 40 hours per week is dead. Nobody is forcing you to stay and it’s likely that you won’t stay. So rather than leave on bad terms, leave on your own terms. Don’t think of it as quitting—think of it as transitioning.
The danger of staying somewhere you don’t like too long is that you may get great at something you hate and only end up attracting more of what you don’t like doing. Many people are afraid to leave their current industry or profession because:
- They think they will have to start at the bottom
- They think they will make less money
- They don’t want to lose the network they’ve built
- They are comfortable where they are and good at what they do
The prize doesn’t go to who landed their dream job right away. Dreams change. People change. Economies change. Technologies change. Opportunities change. Landing your original dream job doesn’t mean it will be your dream job forever. The prize goes to the individual who is open to change, keeps seeking, and is always looking for new fun ways to express themselves through work.
4. Am I inspired by the lives of those above me? Will more money really make me happier?
When I talk to many millennials, they aren’t inspired by the lives of their CEO and other C-suite executives. Though the top executives may make 10 times more than them, the motivation of simply making more money isn’t enough. The sacrifice of life style and quality time with family and friends isn’t worth it to most millennials. Unlike other generations, millennials don’t want their jobs to define who they are.
While the higher rungs of the corporate ladder command more money, the company also commands more time. At that point, the company is your life. So you have to make a choice if that’s what you want. At the end of the day, it’s not the money that we want. Nobody wants to swim in coins like Scrooge McDuck. We want the life we think the money will buy us, but so many people have financial freedom without feeling like they have any time freedom to really enjoy it. That’s why my focus is on living “more happy hours.”
5. What’s next?
Earning 6-figures isn’t the end game. Once you get to your goal of 6-figures, you have to figure out what’s next. What will your new challenge, project, job, industry, company, or goals be professionally? Is the next goal 7-figures? Is it more international projects? Is it leading more people? Is it taking on more responsibility or less? Is it having a more flexible work arrangement? Is it working on a product rather than being in a service-based industry? Is it building something from the ground up or making something that’s already good into great? Is it working for a great boss or on a great team? Is it moving back home to be near family?
If you’re not married to your employer or industry, you’re essentially dating. I encourage young professionals to date employers until age 30 and then commit after having a variety of professional experiences that help them understand what they love, hate, and are great at doing.
6. Do I want to start my own thing?
90% of employees say that they want to be entrepreneurs at some point in their career. We all have “good ideas,” but the reality is that only 10% of employees will ever pursue entrepreneurship full-time. If you want to be an entrepreneur at some point you have to strategically plan for that transition, by:
1. starting to be very intentional about your finances, decreasing your cost of living, and saving
2. beginning your business as a side hustle to see if it’s even viable
If you choose this road, your current job becomes a bridge job. A bridge job means that you are using that job to position yourself for what’s next by developing skills and relationships and establishing a savings goal or a quit date. After earning my MBA, I strategically took a bridge job and my commitment was to quit at the 18 month mark or once I saved up 6 months of expenses—whichever came first. I reached my savings goal at the 17-month mark and left my job on January 9, 2009 and am still doing what I love today despite the economy tanking in March 2009. It’s possible if you prepare no matter what the external circumstances are.
Wishing you more happy hours,